A-K Valley wrestling teams overcoming obstacles as they return to mat

Thursday, January 7, 2021 | 6:38 PM

For the past 30 years, Kiski Area wrestling coach Chris Heater has spent most of his winter vacation in the wrestling room, putting his athletes through practices and preparing them for tournaments and future matches.

This year has been different, though.

With the three-week pause that was put into place by Gov. Tom Wolf in mid-December, winter sports teams weren’t permitted to practice, which meant Heater got to enjoy his time at home with family for the first time in a long time.

“I love being in the (wrestling) room, but I really enjoyed spending time with my family,” Heater said. “I haven’t done that in quite some time. It’s been 30 years of coaching through the holidays and tournaments and all kinds of stuff. I enjoyed the time I had.”

Heater and his wrestlers were just as excited to get back into their wrestling room Monday as winter sports were permitted to start practicing again. Other wrestling teams around the A-K Valley shared the same sense of excitement.

“The guys were really excited to be back on the mat, and with all this uncertainty due to covid, the kids are just happy to have an opportunity to compete,” first-year Knoch coach Bob Waldron said.

Most teams around the A-K Valley were only able to get a limited number of practices in before the pause. So as teams returned this week, they continued to battle obstacles that have hampered them so far.

One of those obstacles was figuring out how to navigate wrestling with a mask on while still being able to get in their proper conditioning.

“That’s something that’s completely brand-new,” Heater said. “I don’t think it’s good if you’re in shape or not in shape. The kids have said, ‘Wow, holy cow. I’m trying to get in shape and I have this mask on. It’s like twice as bad.’ So, that’s been a little bit of a challenge.”

Teams and coaches also had to get creative during the long layoff in order to stay in shape. With the cold weather and plenty of snow over the holiday break, getting outside for a run or conditioning was difficult.

Like many coaches during the pandemic, Plum coach Mike Supak resorted to technology and kept in touch with his wrestlers via Google Classrooms. He used the platform to give his wrestlers information that they could use over the break when they were able to get in the gym.

“I posted different workouts with like conditioning, strength and agility and even individual wrestling skills so they could develop too,” Supak said. “Then we had a couple Google meets where we met up, and we just went back over what we want to focus on during certain situations.”

Other than staying in shape, wrestlers also had to meet the challenge of keeping their weight in check, especially during the holidays when food seems to be extra tasty. Waldron said most of his guys were able to stay active.

Like Supak, Waldron also had Zoom calls with his wrestlers to remind them to stay disciplined, and he was able to give them different nutrition tips as well.

“Keeping the diet is probably one of the hardest parts, but the guys seemed to take the opportunity when they could to get outside and go for runs,” Waldron said. “All of our guys were able to stay active, though, and do some weight training. So, it’s always a challenge, especially during the holidays, to keep the weight down, but we have a bunch of disciplined guys who have been doing this a long time.”

Teams are now back together as they attempt to get prepared for their first matches, but they still have obstacles to overcome. Working out on their own only did so much, and Heater said he and his guys are working extra hard to get back in shape for their first match Jan. 13 at Fox Chapel.

“I’ve had four practices in a row here that I’m super excited about,” Heater said. “The kids are working hard, they are focused, and anything you tell them to do they are doing.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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